Sue Rossi: Playing it safe with plastics

Child Health and Environment Project, plastic containers

  • Dec. 11, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Plastics have become common in our everyday lives. Chemicals are typically added to plastics to give them certain qualities, such as to make them soft or hard, or to give them colour or fire resistance. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or vinyl), polystyrene and polycarbonate are three plastics that contain chemicals of concern and should be avoided, when possible.

Polystyrene is a plastic resin commonly found in two forms: the foam type used for drink cups, meat trays and take-out containers, and the clear rigid packaging often used for such things as salad greens. Polystyrene contains styrene, a chemical that may be released from foam containers into the hot foods and beverages they carry.

Polycarbonate is a nearly unbreakable clear plastic used to make reusable water bottles, baby bottles and drinking glasses among many other things. Polycarbonate contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical suspected of disrupting hormone function during fetal development. BPA migrates into food or beverages heated in this plastic. The linings of most food and beverage cans also contain BPA.

Reducing reliance on plastics and choosing plastics carefully can help protect human health.

If buying plastic toys, look for PVC- or BPA free toys. Avoid toys with “vinyl” or “PVC” on the label, or those with a strong chemical smell.

Be aware that most inflatable toys (such as those for the pool and bath) are made of vinyl.

If possible, choose unpainted wooden toys, with lead-free paint, or machine-washable cloth toys.

When serving hot food, consider glass, lead-free ceramic, stainless steel or bamboo as alternatives to plastic for children’s dishes and cutlery.

If you use plastic, polypropylene (#5) is a better choice. Discard any plastic dishes that are scratched or otherwise worn.

Carry water in a stainless steel water bottle without a plastic lining, or one labelled    BPA-free.

All of the information in this article was extracted from

Sue Rossi is project leader for the Child Health and Environment Project, which is funded by the North Okanagan Early Childhood Development Committee and hosted through the First Nations Friendship Centre.